Where Did All These Calvinists Come From?

The phrase "all these Calvinists" is quite an exaggeration.1 Sure, Calvinism was experiencing an influx in popularity, as it has historically from time to time, due lately to the strategizing of Calvinists on-line and through Calvinistic publishing houses; coupled with the influence of cherry-picked passages which they believe support their views. But, as history informs us, Calvinism often experiences its ebb and flow, as even Southern Baptist Calvinist professor of Church History Nathan A. Finn admits to the students in his classes. Rarely has Calvinism been a majority position among Christians, and Calvinism is any reality currently than the majority dogma.

So, to ask whence cometh "all these Calvinists" is quite the unseemly exaggeration -- "all these Calvinists" still comprise by far the minority philosophical-theological position among believers in and followers of Jesus Christ. Ask a Calvinistic pastor like Mark Dever, however, and one may conclude with an entirely different perspective.

In the introduction to his lecture, "Where Did All These Calvinists Come From?", Dever quotes from three passages of Scripture (Mark 4:27; Luke 17:10; 1 Cor. 3:6-7), and does not return to these passages at all. We are left wondering why he opened his Bible at all. The context of the Markan passage regards the spreading out of the kingdom of God; the Lukan passage regards the proper, humble, servant position of the believer; and the Corinthian passage regards the ministry of Paul and Apollos to the Christians in that city. "How might these three passages concern either the spread of Calvinism or the derivation of 'all these Calvinists'"? you ask. Plainly: Dever is obliged to use such passages, in eisegetical form, presuming that they promote his Calvinistic agenda. This is one among so many good examples of how Calvinists abuse and distort Scripture in an effort to substantiate their various claims.  

Pastor Mark asks his audience how many had read the book by Collin Hansen titled Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists. Dever himself counted, by a raising of hands, only four persons in the entire audience who had read the work. He underscored the fact -- and it is a fact -- that young people in their twenties are very attracted to "Reformed" theology, which Dever himself defines as Calvinism, and not merely as Protestant or Presbyterian.

He then mentions the Canons of Dort as articulating the "Reformed" statement of faith on the doctrine of salvation. The irony, of course, is how this Southern Baptist can appeal to being of the "Reformed" faith, when in fact the Reformed Calvinists of Dort consider Dever and all other Southern Baptists heretics! Agreeing with Reformed Dortian Calvinists soteriologically would not have saved Southern Baptists from being drowned for the heresy of their views of adult or believer's baptism or their overt congregationalism. Southern Baptist Calvinists are not Reformed. They may be Calvinistic, stemming from the English Calvinists, but they are not Reformed. But I digress. 

For better or for worse -- many of us by far believe the latter -- Calvinism has become the faddish, cool-and-hip stance among the current cool-and-hip college-aged. The good news is that the young, restless, and allegedly Reformed are typically attracted to fads. Calvinism, for them, is merely another fad that will, in time, fade. All fads fade. Arminianism, being the anachronistic theology of the early Church, has always been the dominant position of Christianity.2 Arminianism, which we hold as being purely biblical theology, never fades; it never experiences an ebb and flow, but remains ever constant.

Where did all these Calvinists come from? Dever traces the history of Calvinism from Dort, 1618-19, and early Calvinistic Anglicans (who later, by the way, abandoned Calvinism, an historical fact3 that he conveniently omits) to Charles Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, J.I. Packer, the Banner of Truth Trust, and A.W. Pink. He notes the rise of the slippery slope of hyper-Calvinism, from the likes of Baptist and hyper-Calvinist John Gill, undermining Calvinism in America and Britain. D. James Kennedy's Evangelism Explosion sought to undermine the effects of hyper-Calvinism.

Following Kennedy's EE came the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention, among which were many, many non-Calvinists (though there were some Calvinists) who were vying for the inerrancy of Scripture. John Piper was, of course, extolled as the premier Calvinist who led the way for the current revival of Calvinism; and there were others, of course, including Christian hip-hop artists. But, above all answers given, the overall theological reason is, admittedly, the "sovereignty"4 of God. That is a curious answer, I think, for at least two primary reasons.

First, if Calvinism is the truth of God, why on earth would this "sovereign" God cause its ebb and flow? Does not God desire truth to prevail (cf. 2 Thess. 2:11, 12)? If one posits by way of answer that God at times brings judgment upon people by causing the truth of Calvinism to wane, we must never forget that in Calvinism, even the sinful, instrumental causes which bring about judgment are decreed by God: everything is decreed by God -- my sin, your sin, the rape of a six year old precious girl, murder and abortion, greed, sexual immorality, spiritual apathy, all the unrighteousness that God hates -- everything is decreed by God.

Second, if Calvinism is the truth of this "sovereign" God, then why would He not "open the eyes" of all His redeemed to its alleged truth? Certainly God wants all of His children to walk in the truth (3 John 1:4). The truth of the matter is that God in no sense operates in such a fashion, rendering the Calvinistic notion of God's "sovereignty" yet another theological and philosophical error.

We agree with pastor Dever that eleven out of the twelve offerings he listed have contributed to the resurgence of Calvinism. Again, however, Calvinism has historically always experienced its own ebb and flow. We have currently been experiencing merely another one of its moments of flow; the ebb is fast at work.

His final and twelfth offering by way of answer is the rise of secularism and the decline of Christian nominalism. He concludes: "Arminianism is a theodicy that is trying to justify God from the problem of evil." (mark: 1:02:16) Do not miss this subtle admission: While Arminians theologically and philosophically seek to honor God's holy, righteous and just character by insisting that God has not decreed sin and evil by necessity, Calvinists have advanced concepts of God which inevitably, logically and consistently, albeit reluctantly, render God actually as the Author of sin and evil. How can there exist any other conclusion, when Calvinists maintain that He is the root cause of all sin and evil by His unchangeable will and decree?

Arminians should be grateful for pastor Dever's concession! But Dever is sorely mistaken on (at least) one significant statement:
Arminius and company redefine term after term . . . reversing too many biblical truths about who first chooses whom; and how specifically the choice is made -- to what end? My last point is not how much Arminianism changed, but how incomplete their labors were. They said that God had not predestined and elected the way most Protestant theologians understood Scripture to teach. But they didn't say God couldn't do it. In a nominally Christian culture, Arminianism may appear to be a satisfying explanation of the problem of evil. God's good: it's our fault ... that answer is proven woefully inadequate to more radical [atheistic] critics. (mark 1:02:45
This twelfth position, he believes, is the main reason why Calvinism is experiencing its current flow. Though these allegedly unbiblical, philosophical arguments may satisfy "backslidden United Methodists," as Dever claims, they will not adequately answer nor satisfy the "radical critics" of Theism. Then again, neither will Calvinism's theory, as demonstrated below.

First, Dever's comment regarding Arminians redefining "biblical truths" is sophomoric and naïve. What he deems as "biblical truths" is Calvinism: Calvinism is his naïve presupposition. Thus, Dever unabashedly believes that Arminians redefine biblical terms because they disagree with Calvinism. Since Calvinism is the new kid on the proverbial Church-historical block, one might suggest that Calvinists (really, Augustinians) have redefined term after term, reversing too many of the "biblical truths" of Arminianism, which have been held since the early Church fathers.

Second, God could have designed a world in which He unconditionally chose to save some and damn the majority, as Calvinists insist. There just does not exist any scriptural warrant for such a philosophy, we believe, at least not without the performance of hermeneutical and exegetical gymnastics, which causes great harm to the integrity of God's word.

Third, according to Dever, his concession stands: God is at fault for all the sin and evil in our world, not us. Again, we appreciate the concession, and we are glad that Calvinists are finally owning up to the heinous implications of their theology.

The Free Will defense, admits Dever, does not satisfy the "radical [atheistic] critics" of Christian Theism, which suggests that God grants human beings the freedom to cause and remain responsible for causing sin and evil and suffering. If the "radical [secular, atheistic] critics" reject the Free Will defense of Arminianism, then Arminianism is free from the charge of capitulating to secularism, which utterly contradicts what Dever stated regarding Arminius and Arminianism years ago: "I found this book [about Arminius and Arminianism] to be a telling intellectual journey, suggestive of the unwitting capitulations made by our Arminian brothers and sisters to secularism itself." Which is it, then? Does Arminianism capitulate to the secular demands of Theistic critics or not? Dever cannot have it both ways.

Arminius sought not to capitulate to the secular critics of his time -- nor do Arminians -- but to challenge the theological and philosophical errors of Calvinists, in their treatment of Scripture, and in their statements of God's character. What is Dever suggesting with regard to Calvinism, God, and the problem of evil? "No free will!" says the Calvinist. "Our self-centered God [Dever's words, not mine] -- a glory-obsessed deity -- decreed all this sin and evil and suffering for His glory -- He is sovereign -- or, at least, what we mean by sovereign!"

Dr. Dever and other Calvinists: Do you honestly think that the "radical [atheistic] critics" are going to accept that kind of reasoning? You expect Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris to worship that kind of God -- the kind of God who has decreed the most heinous realities ever experienced on earth? You think the Buddhist, Hindu, and atheist are going to believe in a God who destroys human freedom, accountability and responsibility by decreeing, fixing, and bringing about evil -- allegedly for His glory, nonetheless -- and then punishes people when they act wickedly, as they were decreed to act?

No, that God is not worthy of worship. The biblical portrait of God is not a decretal tyrant. Calvinists present to us a most distorted frame of the God of Scripture, and I shudder to think what God will say to them on Judgment Day, when He challenges their false notions regarding His character. We have a mandate from the Bible as well as from God Himself to protect the dignity, honor, integrity and holiness of God. To this end we continue to challenge the appalling and grave errors of Calvinism.


1 Let us not forget Barna's findings on this so-called influx of Calvinism in 2010:

Church Size

Calvinist church attendance rose 13%.
Arminian church attendance rose 18%

Church Identity as defined by pastors

-Our church is Calvinist/Reformed
2000: 32%
2010: 31% (Statistically, this group has remained flat)

-Our church is Wesleyan/Arminian
2000: 37%
2010: 32% (Statistically this group has had more fluctuation both up and down.)

Does age of a pastor affect the percentage who consider themselves Calvinist versus Arminian?

Ages 27 to 45:
Reformed: 29%
Wesleyan/Arminian: 34%

Ages 46 to 64 -- Baby Boomers:
Reformed: 34%
Arminian: 33%

Ages 65+:
Reformed: 26%
Wesleyan: 27% (This group was more likely to eschew labels)

Geographical Location

Reformed churches: Common in the Northeast, least common in the Midwest.
Wesleyan/Arminian churches: Equally likely to appear in each of the four regions.

Types of churches

Mainline Churches (American Baptist Churches, Evangelical Lutheran Churches in America, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church USA, and United Church of Christ):
Reformed: 29%
Wesleyan/Arminian: 47%

Reformed: 35%
Arminian: 30%

Traditionally Charismatic/Pentecostal
Reformed: 31%
Arminian: 27% (This was the most surprising outcome since these churches tend to come from the holiness or Wesleyan traditions).

Churches that consider themselves doctrinally liberal
Reformed: 17% [Theological liberals statistically come more from the Reformed camp than the Arminian! We all know that the father of theological liberalism, Friedrich Schleiermacher, was a Calvinist.]
Wesleyan: 13%

Kinnaman, Barna Group President: "there is no discernable evidence from this research that there is a Reformed shift among U.S. congregation leaders. . . . Whatever momentum surrounds Reformed churches and the related leaders, events and associations has not gone much outside traditional boundaries or affected the allegiances of most of today's church leaders." (link/link)

Of course, what the Barna findings cannot produce are testimonies of people actually abandoning Calvinism: see the X-Calvinist Corner at Arminian Perspectives. The statistics of people leaving Calvinism seem to be growing, a fact which is not promoted enough by Arminians.

2 "What is called Arminianism was nearly the universal view of the early church fathers and has always been the position of Greek Orthodoxy." See Kenneth D. Keathley, "The Work of God: Salvation," in A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel A. Akin (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2007), 703.

3 Dever calls himself an historian, but what is obvious is that he seeks to revise history to his Calvinistic advantage and agenda. This is dishonest. Anglicans abandoned Calvinism and Puritanism beginning in the early to mid sixteenth century, and did not interpret the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion in a Calvinistic sense. As a matter of fact, Article XVII Of Predestination and Election is affirmed by Arminius, the Remonstrants, and contemporary Arminians, for the Article places election properly, as in Christ (Eph. 1:4). See Keith D. Stanglin and Thomas H. McCall, Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 192-96; Nicholas R.N. Tyacke, Anti-Calvinists: The Rise of English Arminianism c. 1590-1640, Oxford Historical Monographs (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), 245; Robert Prichard, A History of the Episcopal Church (Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing, 1999); Robert Bruce Mullin, Episcopal Vision/American Reality: High Church Theology and Social Thought in Evangelical America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), 14, 15, 29, 136-37, 145-46, 162, 168, 174.

4 Of course, by "sovereign," Calvinists mean that God has decreed every minutiae of our existence. We have no say in any decision we make, given that the means as well as the end have all been predetermined by God to take place. See Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter III, Of God's Eternal Decree: "God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin [merely because they insist as much], nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures [what will? -- there is no free will]; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established [God, by necessity, decrees the second causes as well]. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions." (link


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.